Natural Musicians Who Need Intentional Nurturing to Flourish
It could be said that young children are simply “born musicians.” By just sixteen weeks after conception, babies with normal hearing begin to respond to environmental sounds and voices by moving in utero (1). They have been observed to blink, move to the beat of music, and display a variety of other sensory-motor responses to sound. Hearing is by far the most acutely developed of all the senses in a newborn baby, and quickly becomes refined and therefore increasingly useful to the infant within days of birth. As the pregnancy progresses and the mother begins to feel her growing baby move with increasing frequency and intensity, she can observe that her unborn child changes movement patterns in response to voices and music. When baby arrives it is no coincidence that a rhythmic “shhhhhh,” a gentle lullaby, or a favorite song has the power to quiet fussiness and lull a newborn to sleep. Later, patterned, song-like coos and babbles naturally emerge from the infant who has intrinsically picked up on the cadence of spoken language since before birth. Once the infant turns toddler, moving and experimenting with all objects—intended instruments or otherwise — consumes most of her playtime! In addition to increased environmental exploration, spoken language begins to burst forth as the baby approaches one year. Babbling—which is essentially a child’s way of replicating and combining the many spoken sounds around him—becomes word approximation and imitation.
That “Sponge-Like” Brain and the Language Burst
The brain has spent an inordinate amount of time up until this point naturally separating language into its basic sound components so that the child can both understand and express herself like the people around her do. While music continues to be a source of tremendous enjoyment for the child, it now becomes a language learning tool. Music, which like language has basic components that combine to form a beautiful whole, affects the brain in very specific ways. The left frontal lobe of the brain responds to familiar songs, while the right frontal lobe is stimulated by the timbre (the characteristic qualities that make a sound distinct) of music. Pitch activates the left posterior region of the brain. Words in music are processed in the left temporal lobe, and the music that accompanies the words is primarily processed by different neurons throughout the right hemisphere (2). Music has the inimitable ability to stimulate many regions of the brain simultaneously, thus giving the varied parts of this vital organ a chance to “practice” working together. This increased exercise in integration primes the fertile soil of brain matter for language and all other learning.
Brain development research continues to indicate that frontal lobe stimulation occurs when a baby is in motion. The frontal lobe is responsible for higher level thinking skills, such as planning motor (movement) function, problem solving, spontaneity, memory, language, initiation, judgment, impulse control, and social behaviors. This area, in essence, houses our personality, including our emotions, making it of utmost importance. Crawling, dancing, rhythmic movement, jumping, climbing, walking, and running—all of these activities do far more than just give a young child’s body a work-out! As the child moves along with music, the stimulation the brain receives is immense, and the stage is set for all types of learning. Specific to language acquisition, an informal research venture by music educator Maryann Harman has shown that simply tapping out rhythms and syllables in new words can have a profound effect on children’s ability to acquire, master, and retain new vocabulary (2). Music and movement seem to aid brain development in more ways than we can even imagine!
Because the young child’s brain will triple in size during the first three years of life, because trillions of neural connections are being formed in this period, and because such rapid acquisition of language and overall conceptual expansion is occurring in these early years, it is crucial that adults provide these malleable minds with every opportunity for learning. We have a responsibility to nurture every part of our children, and development of musical aptitude through instruction is a worthwhile investment that will impact overall development, including language and literacy for a lifetime. The window of opportunity to influence a child’s musical aptitude for the rest of his/her life is from birth to age nine. Children are each born with a set of intelligences, interests, and abilities unique to their person. Harvard-based developmental psychologist Howard Gardner believes, “The single most important thing in education is for each person to find at least one thing that he/she connects to, gets excited by, feels motivated to spend more time with” (2). For many people, young and old, that “thing” is music.
The child’s ability to form an early, secure attachment to a primary caregiver is a crucial foundation for lifelong learning. When the caregiver is consistently attuned to the child’s needs and preferences, sharing frequent positive interactions with the child, the intimacy of relationship is strengthened. The child’s brain is stimulated in unique ways through these mutual experiences, lifelong trust is cultivated, and deeper, more memorable conceptual learning occurs. Parents are their children’s first teachers, serving as principal role models for social interactions, interest in the world around them, and unconditional love and encouragement. When a parent invests quality time and interest into the child, giving specific praise along the way, the child feels believed in, cared for, and accepted, and his/her self-esteem develops in a positive direction. Letting a child know that he/she is capable is an incredible gift! In the Musikgarten program, parents participate alongside their children, singing, moving, cuddling, laughing, dancing, and playing. Even after class is done, parents continue the fun and exploration with their children in their most comfortable environment: home. This investment of music into the daily lives of young children lays the foundation for a love of practice and for resiliency, the ability to work through failure without collapse.
Music education, starting in the early months and years of a child’s life, has incredible documented benefits for every aspect of child development. Children who are typically developing, along with children who have special needs, can greatly benefit from music and movement instruction. Research shows that programs like Musikgarten stimulate learning in multiple developmental domains simultaneously, all in the context of pleasant, play-based, child-centered fun. Myra J. Staum, Ph.D., Director and Professor of Music Therapy at Willamette University in Oregon says, “Music is effective because it is a nonverbal form of communication, it is a natural reinforcer, it is immediate in time and provides motivation for practicing nonmusical skills. Most importantly, it is a successful medium because almost everyone responds positively to at least some kind of music” (3). Music provides a sense of safety, security, and enjoyment for children who may not feel these in other, more traditional learning environments. What an important investment music and movement instruction is for your child!
In a typical Musikgarten session, in addition to musical skills, each of the four major developmental domains is inherently, simultaneously, and deliberately addressed: Cognition (mental development), Language and Communication, Social/Emotional, and Fine and Gross Motor (movement of smaller and larger muscle groups, respectively) Skills. In general, research has shown that music and movement instruction “nourish the brain” of young children by giving them specific practice with language and listening skills, creating fun social opportunities, helping to settle a busily-absorbing mind, and so much more. In Musikgarten, the fun and learning just happen…naturally!
Read on for specific developmental benefits of Musikgarten for the young child…
1—Chamberlain, David, Ph.D. “Parents Ask About Life in the Womb.” The Association for
Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health website. http://birthpsychology.com/free-article/parents-ask-about-life-womb
2—Harman, Maryann, M.A. “Music and Movement-Instrumental in Language Development.” Earlychildhood NEWS.
3—Staum, Myra J., Ph.D., RMT-BC. “Education: Music Therapy and Language.” Autism Research Institute website.
Andrews, Laura J. and Patricia E. Sink. “Integrating Music and Reading Instruction.” National Association for Music Educators (MENC) 2002: 2. http://www.menc.org/supportmusic_cases/view/317
Stein, Gari. The More We Get Together. RoseyRaeNate Productions, 2008. http://www.songsforteaching.com/teachingtips/benefitsofmusicwithyoungchildren.htm
Walworth, Darcy, Ph.D. “Music for More Than Music’s Sake.” Early Childhood Music and Movement Association website. http://www.ecmma.org/blog/thoughtful-music/music_for_more_than_musics_sake
Written by Lacey K. H. Wood, MA
Early Childhood Educator with specialties in Deaf and Special Education
Early Intervention Special Instructor
Mother of two young daughters